The rodeo has changed a lot since Al Gould’s time as a cowboy.
Gould, 73, is a master leather craftsman and celebrated saddle maker in Clovis. In his youth, he would travel from rodeo to rodeo, wrestling steers as a part-time job. Altogether, Gould was a steer wrestler for 30 years.
The last time Gould participated in a rodeo he was 48, and the sign for him to stop was good kick in the side by the horse he was riding. When he got out of the hospital, he did not go back to the rodeo.
“I’d needed to quit for a while, and I knew it,” Gould said. “That seemed like a pretty good sign it was time.”
Gould got his start in rodeo in High School, roping and riding cows, but really started competing when he got to Fresno State. After he graduated, he continued to help out at the college rodeos and was an active part of 12 of Fresno State’s rodeos, either as a participant, a producer or as a judge.
Eventually, Gould joined the RCA and began steer wrestling. In 1964, he won steer wrestling at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
But rodeo was always a part-time job for Gould. Throughout college, he worked for Beaver’s Saddle Shop. After he graduated, Gould left Clovis and went to work for hat companies, including Resistol and American. He came back to Clovis in 1977, after being gone for about a decade.
While he was on the road selling hats for Resistol and American hat companies, Gould would go to rodeos all along the western United States and participate in steer wrestling.
“Steer wrestling, all you gotta show up with is your suitcase and your spurs,” Gould said. “I participated pretty strong.”
In 1974, Gould got as high as fourth in the standings, and ended up missing the national finals by $200 that year.
“I rodeoed when I could,” Gould said. “On my vacation. I would take my vacation and go rodeoing. We were flying, begging rides, hitchhiking, doing everything we could to get to the next one.”
Gould remembers part of what was so good about the rodeo for him was that he could make money and keep a full-time job. He says he was tempted a few times to give up his full-time job and rodeo fulltime, but the cliché not to quit your day job kept him from doing so.
Gould often competed against — and beat — the people who made it to the finals, but because of his job he never made it there himself. After he quit rodeoing, he served on the board of directors for the Clovis Rodeo Association for a few years. He left that position to be the director of the Sierra Circuit.
When Gould was the director of the Sierra Circuit, they held the finals for the rodeo at the Fresno Fair Grounds. That was the only time such a thing occurred.
After he left his position as the director of the Sierra Circuit, he ended his career in the rodeo business.
“They say to thine own self be true. Well, thine own self got old,” Gould laughed.
Despite ending his rodeo career, Gould continued to compete in Gold Card Roping’s — or “Geriatric Roping’s” as he called them. He competed against people he had gone up against before. He remembers beating them in his youth, but losing to them in his age.
Nobody else in Gould’s family rodeoed. After him, his brother took up the mantle and rode bareback broncs. But rodeo wasn’t what his brother wanted to do; he wanted to train. And now he does.
“There were no rodeo cowboys in my history,” Gould said. “My brother and I were the only ones.”
Gould was glad to have kept his day job while he was competing. When he was competing, winning at the national finals meant $500 or $600, not the thousands that can be won today.
Gould also commented on the sponsors that are so present today. When he was competing, cowboys were not allowed to wear symbols on their shirts. Today, the symbols are all too common.
Gould said that if he had the chance to do it over with the sponsors available today, he would have gotten a sponsor and quit his day job to rodeo full time.
But he has no regrets. “It was a good chapter in my life, the rodeo was.”